Croatian Baroque Ensemble, an ensemble that specializes in historically authentic interpretations of Baroque music, performs Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Live and HD video was recorded on November 21, 2010, at the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb.
Laura Vadjon – Violine and Artistic leadership
Ana Benic – baroque flute
Pavao Masic – harpsichord
Vlatka Peljhan – viola
Nika Zlataric – cello
Helena Babic – double bass
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 makes use of a popular chamber music ensemble of the time (flute, violin, and harpsichord), which Bach used on its own for the middle movement. It is believed that it was written in 1719, to show off a new harpsichord by Michael Mietke (c. 1656/1671 – 1719, a German harpsichord and harp maker) which Bach had brought back from Berlin for the Köthen court.
It is also thought that Bach wrote it for a competition at Dresden with Louis Marchand (2 February 1669 – 17 February 1732, the French Baroque organist, harpsichordist, and composer); in the central movement, Bach uses one of Marchand’s themes. Marchand fled before the competition could take place, apparently scared off in the face of Bach’s great reputation for virtuosity and improvisation.
The concerto is well suited throughout to showing off the qualities of a fine harpsichord and the virtuosity of its player, but especially in the lengthy solo cadenza to the first movement. It seems almost certain that Bach, considered a great organ and harpsichord virtuoso, was the harpsichord soloist at the premiere. Scholars have seen in this work the origins of the solo keyboard concerto as it is the first example of a concerto with a solo keyboard part.
There are three movements, with starting times in the video:
- 00:05 Allegro
- 10:14 Affettuoso
- 16:10 Allegro
The first movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050, is a remarkable and pioneering work in the history of Western classical music, especially for its role in the development of the solo concerto. This movement, and the concerto as a whole, is part of the set of six Brandenburg Concertos composed in 1721, a collection that represents the pinnacle of Baroque instrumental music.
The Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 is particularly noted for its prominent use of the harpsichord as a solo instrument, along with the flute and violin. This was a significant innovation at the time, as the harpsichord was typically relegated to the role of continuo (accompaniment), rather than being featured as a soloist. Bach’s decision to bring the harpsichord to the forefront was revolutionary and had a lasting impact on the concerto genre.
The first movement, marked Allegro, is vibrant and full of life, characteristic of Bach’s contrapuntal mastery and his ability to weave intricate musical lines between different instruments. The movement is structured in a ritornello form, a common pattern in Baroque concertos where a recurring thematic material (ritornello) presented by the full ensemble alternates with more virtuosic and exploratory passages by the soloists.
In this movement, the ritornello theme is bold and distinctive, introduced by the full ensemble. It’s characterized by its rhythmic energy and memorable melodic lines. The theme serves as an anchor point throughout the movement, returning in different keys and variations, providing a sense of coherence and structure.
The solo passages feature the violin, flute, and harpsichord, each given moments to shine both individually and together. Bach skillfully balances the three solo instruments, allowing them to interact with each other and with the ensemble. The dialogue between the soloists and the ensemble is a key feature of this movement, showcasing Bach’s intricate and well-crafted orchestration.
A particularly notable aspect of the first movement is the extended harpsichord cadenza towards the end. This cadenza is one of the longest and most elaborate in all of Bach’s works and is a highlight of the concerto. It showcases the harpsichord’s capabilities beyond its traditional accompanying role, highlighting its potential for virtuosity and expressive depth. The cadenza is a tour de force, with rapid scales, arpeggios, and intricate figurations, demonstrating Bach’s own prowess as a keyboardist.
Throughout the movement, Bach’s use of harmony, melody, and rhythm is masterful, weaving together the different elements into a cohesive and dynamic whole. The movement is a brilliant display of Baroque musical aesthetics, with its emphasis on complexity, ornamentation, and the interplay of multiple musical lines.
The second movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050, is a sublime and introspective contrast to the energetic first movement. This movement is unique in its instrumentation and texture, creating an atmosphere of reflective calm that is typical of Bach’s slow movements in his concerti.
In this movement, Bach strips down the instrumentation to just the three solo instruments: the flute, the violin, and the harpsichord. Notably absent is the continuo group, which includes bass instruments and harpsichord for harmonic support in most Baroque compositions. This unusual choice creates a more intimate and chamber-like setting, focusing attention on the interplay between the soloists.
The movement is characterized by its Affettuoso marking, which suggests a tender and expressive approach to the music. Bach crafts a delicate and lyrical dialogue among the three solo instruments, each contributing equally to the musical conversation. The texture of the movement is contrapuntal, yet the counterpoint is gentle and flowing, unlike the more robust and complex counterpoint of the first movement.
The flute and violin often engage in a beautiful duet, with the harpsichord providing a subtle and supportive harmonic backdrop. The lines for each instrument are lyrical and expressive, showcasing Bach’s skill in writing idiomatically for different instruments. The melody is passed back and forth among the soloists, creating a sense of unity and balance.
The harmonic language of the movement is rich and colorful, with Bach using chromaticism and unexpected harmonic turns to add depth and emotional resonance. Despite these harmonic complexities, the overall mood remains serene and introspective.
The second movement is relatively brief, but within its concise form, Bach encapsulates a world of expression and beauty. The movement does not have the dramatic flair or the virtuosic display of the outer movements; instead, its charm lies in its simplicity and the pure beauty of its melodic lines.
As the movement draws to a close, the music gradually winds down, leaving the listener in a state of reflective tranquility. This sets the stage for the final movement, transitioning from the introspective calm of the second movement to the joyful energy that is to come.
The third movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, BWV 1050, is a lively and spirited Allegro that brings the concerto to an exhilarating and joyful conclusion. This movement is characteristic of Bach’s ability to combine intricate contrapuntal writing with a sense of rhythmic vitality and exuberance.
Returning to the full ensemble setup after the intimate second movement, this final Allegro re-engages the entire group of instruments, including the ripieno (orchestra) and the continuo. The movement is structured in a fugal form, a style in which a main theme is introduced and then imitated and developed by successive parts in a contrapuntal manner. This form showcases Bach’s mastery of complex musical structures and his ability to weave independent musical lines into a cohesive and harmonious whole.
The movement opens with a vigorous and rhythmically driven main theme, introduced by the ensemble. This theme is marked by its energetic character and sets the tone for the rest of the movement. The theme is then taken up by the soloists – the flute, violin, and harpsichord – who each add their own variations and embellishments, demonstrating both their virtuosic skills and their ability to blend seamlessly with the rest of the ensemble.
As the movement progresses, Bach expertly manipulates the fugal theme, moving it through various keys and registers, and creating a rich tapestry of sound. The interplay between the soloists and the ripieno is a key feature of this movement, with the soloists often engaging in intricate dialogues against the backdrop of the fuller ensemble.
The harpsichord, which had a prominent solo role in the first movement, is more integrated into the ensemble in this movement, yet still provides moments of brilliance and complexity. The flute and violin continue to shine with their agile and expressive lines, weaving in and out of the texture with grace and precision.
Rhythmically, the movement is driven and relentless, propelling the music forward with a sense of joy and festivity. Bach’s use of counterpoint is not just a display of technical skill but also serves to heighten the movement’s energetic and uplifting character.
As the movement nears its conclusion, the pace and intensity build, leading to a final, triumphant iteration of the main theme. This culminates in a satisfying and exuberant conclusion, ending the concerto on a high note.
Croatian Baroque Ensemble
The Croatian Baroque Ensemble is the most prominent Croatian ensemble specializing in the historically informed performance of instrumental and vocal-instrumental music of the Baroque period and its related epochs on genuine instruments or their faithful replicas. The Ensemble was founded in 1999 and gathers renowned musicians of the younger generation, instrumentalists, and singers, who have already achieved a reputation in the performance of Baroque music.
The artistic leader of the ensemble is the eminent violinist Laura Vadjon and the president of the ensemble is Saša Britvić. Along with permanent concert cycles of seven concerts per season in the Croatian Music Institute, with clearly planned, thematically relevant programs, the ensemble appears as a permanent guest of many festivals at home and abroad ((Varaždin Baroque Evenings, Dubrovnik Summer Festival, Split Summer, Zagreb Baroque Festival, Musical Evenings in St. Donatus, Histria Festival, Concerts in the Euphrasian Basilica, Festival of Croatian Music in Vienna, Festival of Central European countries Musica Sacra in Rome, Festival Brežice, Festival Tesori Musicali Toscani in Pisa and others).
In their programs, the ensemble often has eminent guests from home and abroad, soloists and conductors, experts in the authentic approach to the performance of Baroque music (R. Egarr, H. Niquet, W. Ehrhardt, C. Mackintosh, S. Montanari, Aapo Hakkinnen, Ph. Pickett, D. Staff, Th. Caudle, M. Mitchel, P. Loennerberg, L. Cummings, A. Helm, and others).
In the programs of the Croatian Baroque Ensemble, there are regularly represented Croatian composers, i.e. those who were active in these regions (F. Sponga-Usper, G. Usper, T. Cecchini, V. Jelić, I. Lukačić, G. Puliti, L. Sorkočević, and others). The CD with Laura Vadjon and Mario Penzar performing Croatian and Italian Baroque sonatas has the title Cecchini&Co. The ensemble also recorded the CD with A. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
Except in Croatia, the Ensemble made appearances in Italy, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Argentina, Bolivia, and Cuba.
Laura Vadjon, the first Croatian artist on the baroque violin, is one of the originators of new stylistic movements and the leading name in the area of reproduction of the music from the older periods in Croatia. She is the artistic leader and concertmaster of the Croatian Baroque Ensemble with whom since 1999 she has appeared in Croatia and abroad, introducing on concert stages numerous first performances of forgotten Croatian composers as well as great composers of the Late Baroque.
Laura Vadjon permanently cooperates with a range of most significant names of the world baroque stage (C. Mackintosh, H. Niquet, R. Egarr, W. Ehrhardt, L. Cummings, Ph. Pickett, S. Montanari, and others). In the interpretation of soloist and chamber music, she held many successful concerts and realized many discography projects; she is particularly sought-after as an interpreter of the Early Italian Baroque literature and G. F. Händel’s and W.A. Mozart’s works.
The musician is characterized by an exceptionally recognizable and distinctive tone and style, and she is also distinguished by her original and forethought interpretations accompanied by an envious competence of dramatic and emotional features of the Baroque period music. Laura Vadjon is the winner of the Porin Award and Milka Trnina Award as well as many other Croatian acknowledgments.
She has performed in some 20 countries in Europe, Russia, Japan, South America, and Cuba. Laura Vadjon is a professor at the Music Academy in Zagreb, where she teaches chamber music of the 17th and 18th centuries, with emphasis on the historically stylistic informed interpretation. She plays on an authentic Italian historical instrument, a work of Giovanni Battista Guadagnini dating back to the year 1759.
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